In light of one of the most “meh” ACC slates in recent memory -- four games, one (mild) upset and limited league shakeup -- it is time for the annual main event in this conference: Clemson vs. Florida State ... along with several other noteworthy matchups.
The one we’ve had circled on our calendars since January: No. 3 Clemson at No. 12 Florida State
The winner of this game has gone on to capture the ACC crown every year since 2011 and the Atlantic every year since 2009. And while that might not be the case this season -- even if FSU wins, Clemson would need to lose another game along the way to fall out of the division’s driver’s seat -- there is still plenty at stake here.
For the Seminoles, this is about resurrecting a season that got off to a poor start and being in position to make a New Year’s Six bowl game again. For the Tigers, this is a chance to win in Tallahassee for the first time in 10 years and to overcome what appears to be the last major hurdle between them and the ACC title game. Given the prime-time stage, it is another chance for Deshaun Watson to make a statement, too, as he looks to get back to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony for the second straight year.
The Hokies play on Thursday night for the second straight week. If they play the way they did in beating Miami by 21 last week, then they will have the inside track on the division race. If not? Well, Coastal chaos may be reigning supreme once again, considering that Pitt will have beaten Virginia Tech, which has beaten North Carolina ... which has beaten Pitt.
All caught up? Good -- although the Panthers may have the most difficult road even with a win, considering they still need to travel to Clemson as their rotating Atlantic opponent this season. Of course, even that scenario goes under the assumption that the division will be chalk the rest of the way, and if we’ve learned anything in recent years, predicting order in the Coastal is a fool’s errand.
Yeah, that’s probably not how everyone was thinking about this contest when it was scheduled nearly three years ago. But the first on-campus meeting between the Hurricanes and Irish since their rivalry was cancelled 26 years ago will provide a bounce-back opportunity for one of these teams. Miami rose as high as No. 10 before dropping three straight, while Notre Dame has lost two in a row and enters with a 2-5 record. You could argue that the stakes are bigger for the Irish given the potential bowl bid they are playing for down the stretch -- and the fact this is a nonconference tilt for the Canes -- but neither will apologize for coming away with a win in this uneven season. Nor should they.
Poor UVa: The Cavaliers drew the Cardinals as their permanent Atlantic crossover opponent when Louisville joined the ACC in 2014. Now, the Hoos are tasked with defending the Heisman front-runner in a season that has seen UVa rank at or near the bottom of the ACC in nearly every major defensive category.
Jackson? All he’s done this season is play a hand in an FBS-best 34 touchdowns responsible for, which, as of now, is ahead of the pace of Colt Brennan’s FBS single-season record of 63 in 2006. (Brennan had 30 through seven games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.)